Review: A game developer dies so an artificial intelligence can live in Daemon

SF author Daniel Suarez's first novel, Daemon (Dutton Books, $25.95) takes massively multiplayer role-playing to unimagined heights by turning the real world into a platform for a different kind of game—by envisioning a power struggle to the death between a sophisticated piece of software and the U.S. government.

The book kicks off with the death of a fabulously successful game developer named Matthew Sobol. When Sobol's obituary hits the Internet, it triggers a series of bizarre murders—murders that seem to have been committed by computer programs diffused throughout the Internet. Local authorities are quickly overwhelmed by the unusual nature of the killings. They turn to the FBI, whose quick assumption of authority paves the way for an entertaining, no-holds-barred standoff at the home of the dead programmer.

Daniel Suarez is a computer programmer by trade and has experience in the defense, finance and entertainment industries. His biography proudly states that he is also an enthusiastic gamer, and it shows: The Daemon plot for world domination includes recruiting players of Sobol's games, then offering them leveling incentives and increasing power in the real world as they carry out the dead man's master plan. As a system for turning society on its head, it is both eerie and plausible.

The mainstream media like to portray anyone with a fondness for computer games as hopeless, trivia-obsessed and divorced from reality, and part of what makes Daemon so interesting is that it reminds us that the global economy and our most cherished social institutions are constructs. They are powerful ones, admittedly, but they are also human inventions, and may have just as much vulnerability to hacker-type mischief.

But this is no dry lecture on the nature of consensus reality. Daemon is an inventive, convincing, high-adrenaline turf war, with a high body count and plenty of chase scenes. It is a book that will leave readers gasping for breath even as they grapple with its moral ambiguities ... and wonder which side they should be cheering for.

Book two in the series, /FreedomT, will be out in 2010.

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